Updated: May 11, 2020
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Right, Welsh actor Matthew Rhys plays Esquire Magazine reporter Lloyd Vogue, who's been assigned to write a profile story on the endearing TV personality Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks. They meet during the taping of another episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
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“A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital copy; 2019; PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight and some mild language; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple (4K), FandangoNOW(4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers
FOR PRODUCER Peter Saraf and director Marielle Heller (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”), the task of hiring the right actor to play the iconic Fred Rogers was so daunting, “that we nearly didn’t make the movie,” says Saraf during one of four featurettes. For over a decade, the script had circulated through Hollywood, and Tom Hanks had already turned it down once. For Saraf, and others, there was no other actor: “Immediately, when you read the script, who pops into your mind? Tom Hanks.”
Saraf also noticed similarities between Hanks and Rogers. “Over the course of his career, Tom has built up empathy, trust, and adoration with the audience, the same kind of sincerity and authenticity that Fred had.” Unbeknownst to the producers as they recruited Heller to be their director, she already had a relationship with Hanks. “He had seen my first movie and we had been trading scripts back and forth and kept in touch,” she says. So Heller called him and sent him the revised script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster. A week later she got the call. “[He said] yes, and everyone was like, how did you do that?” For Hanks it, was simple. “She came with a perspective of the power of Mr. Rogers – the power of empathy. And I got that,” he said.
“Fred had a self-imposed spiritual mandate to engender understanding and kindness in a world, and in a medium, television, which had put very little importance on kindness and understanding.” – Actor Tom Hanks
(1) Mister Rogers introduces reporter Lloyd Vogue to the audience from one of the picture windows. (2) Lloyd and his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) gather the diapers for their newborn son Gavin, as they prepare for his sister's wedding in New Jersey. (3) Lloyd is shocked when he finds his estrange father Jerry (Chris Cooper) at the wedding. During the reception, Jerry gets up and sings "Something Stupid," originally made famous by Nancy Sinatra. (4) Andrea and Gavin watch Jerry sing. (5) Lloyd has been bitter to his father for years, which leads to a physical fight.
For Heller, making “A Beautiful Day” was significant to her career, plus she completely understood what Mr. Rogers meant, not just to herself, but to others. “I feel like Americans all have this feeling about Fred, that he is our person, because he represents this point in our childhood where we trusted him almost more than anybody,” she says.
Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, who’s known for his role on the highly praised TV series “The Americans,” plays investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel, who’s actually the central character of “A Beautiful Day.” He’s assigned by his Esquire Magazine editor (Christine Lahti) to write a simple 400-word profile on Mr. Rogers – for an upcoming issue on “heroes.” Vogel is in disbelief: “I don’t do puff pieces!” Rogers hosts that “hokey kid’s show” and Vogel thinks it’s all a big put-on. Her final words to Vogel: “Play nice.”
He goes home and learns that his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), a public-interest attorney and a temporary stay-at-home mom for their newborn son, is a huge fan of Mister Rogers. The inspiring true story is based on the friendship between Rogers and journalist Tom Junod, whose original Esquire article “Can You say…Hero?” was published in November of 1998.
Vogel arrives in Pittsburgh at the local PBS station, WQED, the home of the Mister Rogers show. For 30 minutes Fred has been trying to connect with a California child from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The child has been swinging a plastic sword incessantly. Eventually, the child gives Mister Rogers a hug, and Vogel asks how often special children come to the studio. The producer says, “Every day.” Before they can start shooting the next scene, Rogers spots Vogel. He makes a fast dash toward the reporter. Fred notices a big cut across Vogel’s nose, which the reporter says was a “play at the plate.” Vogel will eventually tell Rogers how the cut really happened – a fight between him and his estranged father Jerry (Chris Cooper) at his sister Lorraine’s (Tammy Blanchard) third wedding. Vogel has been carrying bitterness for years, since his dad had numerous affairs and left his mother while she was dying of cancer. Rogers will become a force of wisdom for Vogel, promoting the goal of reconciling and forgiving his father.
(1&2) Nicked and brushed from the fight with his father and others, Lloyd Vogel is assigned the profile piece of Mr. Rogers by his editor (Christine Lahti). (3) Lloyd goes to the fire escape to have a phone conversation with Mr. Rogers since their living room is full of new mothers and babies.
A 15-minute featurette highlights the production, which was filmed in Pittsburgh, where Rogers lived and worked. It begins with day one, when Heller wore a red sweater, as an homage to Mister Rogers’ trademark cardigan. She says many of her friends were apprehensive about what direction the movie was going to take, and implored, “Oh, God. Don’t ruin my childhood.” She admits imagining her filmmaking career would only focus on women. But once she read the script about these two men, she jokingly says, “Mr. Rogers is the only man who could make me want to make a movie about men.” Heller also had high admiration for Rhys, “who’s not afraid of showing the less pretty side of humanity.”
They also reveal that the scene filmed at a Chinese restaurant was filled with people who had been a part of Fred Rogers' Neighborhood. It included Hedda Sharapan who worked on the show from day one; Fred’s wife Joanne; producer Margy Whitmer; David Newell, who played Mr. McFeely; and Bill Isler, Fred’s right-hand man. The scenes of the “Mister Rogers Show” were filmed at the actual TV studio. Many of the set pieces for the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and Fred’s House had to be replicated. Another featurette details the recreated puppets and the miniatures for “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and another brief feature is on the puppet Daniel Tiger.
The Digital platforms and Blu-ray also include 17-minutes of deleted and extended scenes, and 90 seconds of bloopers, as Hanks tries to zip up the red sweater. Another goody is the commentary with Heller and cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (“Manchester by the Sea”) which, strangely, is only included on digital and Blu-ray. The space needed to include it on the 4K disc would’ve been negligible. Right out of the gate, you’ll discover how they went to the U.K. and picked up the last four old school Ikegami TV studio cameras, to replicate the look of the original show. “When we tried to fake it digitally, it looked terrible,” says Heller.
(1) Lloyd arrives at the WQED studios and finds Mister Rogers trying to connect with a special boy from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. (2) Fred tapes a short segment on putting up a tent, but it doesn't go as planned. (3) Lloyd rewatches the scene with Fred, the director, and producer. He tells them it's fine and doesn't reshoot. Later he tells Lloyd, “It’s important for children to know that adults’ plans don’t always work out.” (4) Lloyd gets a close-ups view of Mister Rogers's neighborhood.
Honestly, I’m shocked this heartwarming film was released in 4K – especially since the majority of the movie was captured somewhere between 720p and 1080p, which equals the clarity of early HDTV. Plus the video from the “Mister Rogers” show was even lower at 480i. This was intentional, by Heller and Lipes, to have a softer and smoother look throughout the film. The footage was captured on the Alexa Mini 3.4K digital camera, but in the Super 16 mode, which only used a fraction of the chip, while still providing expansive contrast levels and excellent color retention.
The IMDb website states the footage was then mastered in 4K, which seems to be a complete overkill if that’s correct. I’m guessing it’s wrong. Why wouldn’t you master in 2K, since the source material is below that level, plus the amount of money and time you would save with post-production rendering?
Several comparisons between the 4K and HD versions revealed the slightest differences. Overall sharpness was nearly a dead heat, with the finest of clarity going to the 4K (disc or digital) only visible on supersize screens, but the HDR toning is where the formats separated. The 4K had a snappier image, with deeper blacks and brighter highlights, and the facial toning was just a tad more natural.
The 4K disc was coded with the eight-channel DTS:X soundtrack, while 4K digital uses Dolby Atmos, as both audio formats push the light jazzy music cues by the director’s brother Nate, who's scored all of her films, and the brief ambient sounds to the height speakers. Still the majority of the music, including Hanks singing the classic “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” plus timeless classics “Northern Sky” from Nick Drake, and “On the Road to Find Out” from Cat Stevens, and the heavy dialogue-driven story are all coming from your front speakers clear and balanced.
All and all, it’s a pleasant 4K experience, but nothing to sell the format to your neighbors. And don’t be shocked if you shed a tear or two.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Fred Rogers was an avid swimmer, and so is Tom Hanks, making for excellent underwater photography. (2&3) During a visit to New York City, Fred and Lloyd ride the subway and a group of students start to sing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (4) Fred pulls out his trusty puppet, Daniel Tiger and asks Lloyd about his favorite stuff animal.
(1) Lloyd reconnects with his father as he faces an illness. (2) Fred visits Lloyd and his father and signs "Friend" as he leaves.